Every NBA team has now completed 15 or more games in this lockout-shortened season. The LA Clippers finished their 15th game last night, falling to the Lakers in a “road game” at Staples Center. While the Clippers have been treated well early by the schedule, the Chicago Bulls have been busier, recently completing their 20th game. I have a few observations to share as we surpass the first quarter of the season, let’s take a look.
Washington isn’t as bad as their record says – Sure, the Wiz are 3-15 at the time of this article and I hate to see Head Coaches used as scapegoats but they are genuinely only a player (and some on-court leadership) or two away from being a Playoff team. The young, energetic John Wall isn’t quite ready to be their leader and when you have Nick Young as your potent offensive weapon, it’s not a great sign. I don’t doubt Young’s talent level, however I see him as a super-reliable third option, not the crunch-time “go-to guy”. The worst part of Washington’s “build” is that all their veteran players are all past it. Rashard Lewis, Ronny Turiaf, Maurice Evans and Roger Mason are all guys you’d want to see deep in the rotation of teams seeded 1-4. I can’t speak for their collective locker room presence but I would imagine the “kids” currently run the Wizards, and their late game play and overall record probably suggest that. Here’s hoping they make some moves to bring in some active experienced players to groom their sensational youth movement.
New Orleans is a basketball wasteland – Chris Paul left and it seems plenty of people arrived that aren’t too thrilled about it. The catalyst of the CP3 deal, Eric Gordon has recently declined an extension offered by the Hornets and will likely hope for a juicy offer-sheet come the off-season. The Hornets can always match whatever offer Gordon receives but we all know how that plays out if a player is disinterested in his team. The rest of the team has some scattered talent but nothing close to a formidable line-up.
New Orleans is in re-build mode and boasts a line-up of players that would generally be the fourth or fifth best player in their starting line-up… IF they started at all on other teams. Their 3-15 record as this article goes live is probably where they are at and there’s not much to look forward to for Hornets fans. Better times will be had watching old school re-runs on NBATV, and even then, that was a team based in Charlotte.
The New York Knicks will miss the Playoffs – It’s simple really, the Knicks need to move Melo as there’s just no way he and Amare can co-exist. The Knicks’ offense is a disgrace and the Madison Square Garden organ could be replaced with Benny Hill theme music at any time and it would fit perfectly. New York’s bigs are proven performers when placed alongside a quality point guard. The solution is simple, trade Melo to the Brooklyn Nets for Deron Williams and create not only a better team for yourselves but also a bitter rivalry with the scorned Olympian Anthony.
Carmelo can headline the Nets’ move to Brooklyn and Knicks fans can get on with their lives, knowing that their team may shoot a percentage over .420 some time this decade.
The Chicago Bulls are the best team in the NBA right now – Ok, before I get hate mail from Lakers, Heat, Thunder and Nuggets fans I’ll point out that the Bulls have the best defense in the league, they have the best record in the East and have played the most games of anyone so far. Add to this the fact they’ve played five games without Team and League MVP Derrick Rose, recording a 4-1 record.
They have the second-highest points differential in the league (+10.2) and the second-best road record at 8-3. The only team that could possibly challenge the Bulls top billing right now is the Thunder, however they have achieved their record with a full squad, so no go in my book. The way this season is slowly shaping up, Chicago fans may not need 15 year old Championship DVDs as their only source of entertainment for much longer.
The Miami Heat are the most intriguing team in the league – How can a team seemingly play better when Dwyane Wade doesn’t suit up? It makes no sense whatsoever and no matter how you look at it, a team with Wade HAS to be better than a team without? No?
Chris Bosh appears to be quite comfortably back in “Retro Raptor-mode” over the past six games while LeBron James seems to be relishing being the “glue guy”. There are always times when LeBron becomes the glue, rock, paper, scissor, jackhammer guy also but the majority of his play minus Wade has looked so relaxed and natural. This may repulse some readers but it’s almost as if LeBron’s too “nice” when Wade is around. Like a fill-in player on a good domestic team, LBJ almost looks stuck between impressing his teammates in hope of scoring another run with them and trying not to hog the ball… in hope of getting another run with them.
The Heat’s and more notably coach Spoelstra’s philosophy is a thing of beauty to a basketball enthusiast. Play the hardest defense you possibly can and then run wild on the offensive end. The Heat call it “skirmish” and with players like Wade and James finishing fast breaks triggered by stifling defense, it’s a feast for the hoop fanatic’s eyes. While they are the (self-made) villains of the league, I think every true hoops fan wants to see the “Big 3″ get it together and produce some epic basketball. The question is, can they do it when Wade returns? Or will everyone go back to being as nervous and confused as an Alzheimer’s patient on a mystery flight?
Lob passes win TV ratings but do not win championships – Don’t get me wrong, I love an alley-oop and more notably I love the Blake Griffin or DeAndre Jordan variety. There’s something to be said for the Clippers being league-relevant again but “Lob City” is not going to replicate “Clutch City” or “Championship City” until it finds some consistent post play. Griffin has been extending his range of late, dragging the likes of Pau Gasol out to 18 feet to score points but the Clippers most reliable post scorer is still probably Chris Paul. The Clippers are currently 9-6 which keeps them on pace for a Playoff seed out West but it won’t get them far past the first round with their current style of play.
For those who disagree, consider this. Imagine the LA Clippers if DeAndre Jordan could make free throws and pass out of double-teams? With all of the spot up shooters that they possess, the Clippers would be almost unstoppable. Owner and noted penny-pincher Donald Sterling has cut the cheque, now it’s time to see if DeAndre Jordan delivers. A second round playoff appearance depends on it.